For the past five months, a handmade poster has been blue-tacked to my front door. Throughout March and April and May and June and July, it has stood like a sentry on the threshold of my castle. Greeting visitors, thanking visitors, advising visitors we won’t be answering the door. We. Are. Shielding. The colours are now faded, the paper is brittle… and next Saturday it will be coming down. As, after 143 days with the drawbridge raised, the shielding program in England will finally be paused. I can rejoin the world… for a while. 🙂
When the coronavirus first entered our shores, Phil and I thought we were on our own. We knew I was vulnerable, knew I would be at risk, knew we needed to keep away from the illness. So we took matters into our own hands. We prepped and organised and prepared ourselves so we could take a step away from society for a couple of months. We stocked up on food, transferred Phil’s work office to our home study, and cancelled all dates in the diary. Then on March 11th, after a visit to my PH hospital, where I was advised to “Go home and stay there”… we closed our front door to the world.
Then, eleven days later, the government advised me -and the 2.2 million other critically vulnerable people- to do just what Phil and I were already doing. They officially announced a ‘Shielding’ program. We were told to stay in and not leave our homes. No going to work or to the shop or for a walk… there were even strict rules about our own gardens! If family shielded with us, then we could share beds as normal… but otherwise we needed to social distance in our own homes. Use kitchens at different times, eat in separate rooms, have different beds, clean the toilet after each use. The guidance was strict. A huge ask.
I remember watching the daily briefing when it was announced… and being completely torn inside. A dichotomy of emotions. Part of me was happy, relieved, that the government were advising others to do what we’d been doing for two weeks. We’d felt alone and embarrassed locking down when everyone else was living as normal. But this justified and supported and backed up our decision. Showed we were doing the right thing. We weren’t being over the top, blowing it out of proportions. But… on the other hand it was terrifying. Although I knew I was at risk, although I’d been following those rules of my own accord… it was bloody scary hearing them become official. Before then, when worried, I’d reassure my anxiety by telling myself that we were being over-protective. But listening to those draconian and life-changing rules halted those consoling thoughts. The virus WAS dangerous. I WAS in danger. Horrid.
Within days I’d received my government letter, advising that I was part of the program. Seeing my name on the top, sent me into a freak again. It was official… I was critically vulnerable. Little me. Terrifying. Over the next fortnight, the shielding program sent daily texts. Reminders of the rules, reminders that I was at risk. I’m not sure if they were designed to frighten us into following the advice… but they did just that. Every time the phone beeped to signal a new message, my stomach dropped. At a time when I was being drowned by the sounds of chirping birds, it was a reminder I did not need. I was very relieved when they eventually stopped their daily bombardment.
With my official letter, I could register on the government database, thus could access support. Did I need anyone to ring me, collect my medicines, bring me food? I was not expecting help. Phil and I thought we were going to have to navigate shielding on our own; thought we were going to have to work out a way to live from inside, ourselves. So we were amazed… and relieved. In fact, it was the moment my shoulders relaxed, as I realised we were going to be protected. “The true measure of any society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members” (Gandhi). 🙂
And over these last five months of shielding, I’ve continued to feel supported and protected. For the first three weeks, each Monday a government food box of soup and pasta and cornflakes would be on our front step when we awoke. I shed tears of surprise and thankfulness at the first one. Society was safeguarding its vulnerable. But we also felt a twinge of guilt, as had food in our cupboards- so gave weekly monetary donations to a local food-bank until we could cancel them! 🙂 Eventually the supermarkets used the database to arrange priority delivery slots for Shielders. The council had a helpline to get immediate assistance, and they also periodically rang to check up on us. They could arrange telephone calls if I was lonely, people to take me to medical appointments, folks willing to collect my meds. They could get volunteers to brave the supermarkets or post letters or walk Lottie. And although I thankfully didn’t need to access this extra support; I was greatly reassured by it. A safety net.
The shielding program also made life easier in unexpected ways. Society understood and recognized it. We didn’t need to explain or justify our want to stay inside. Consequently it made it easier to seek help from our community. Shops and villagers and neighbours all rallied around when asked. We wouldn’t have, couldn’t have, asked for shops to home deliver or strangers to post mail, if we’d been locking down of only our own accord.
But now it is all to end. Shielding is to be paused. Next Saturday, I will take down our sign, and open my front door for the first time in five months. Excitement, worry, excitement, worry. But I won’t recycle it for now, I suspect it will be restarted come Autumn. 😉 And if it does, I feel confident that we will be looked after again. The government has made many mistakes, but the shielding program was something they did right. And I am beyond thankful. 🙂